What’s Your Favorite Way to Cook Gravy?


Gravy, Marinara, Tomato Sauce, Whatever you call it, we call it Yum!

This week, we asked our staff a very personal question, one for which everyone had an answer.  Though the recipes vary, one thing can be said for sure, we love gravy. Red sauce, tomato sauce, marinara, whatever you call it; is a very individual joy, and everyone makes it differently. Today, we’re sharing our favorite recipes and techniques with you.

I learned from my mom, and I’ve improvised her recipe just a little bit. First, I saute chopped celery, onion, carrot, and garlic in some olive oil. After that I add canned plum tomatoes and a few leaves of fresh basil. When I was younger we would use jars of tomatoes we put up ourselves in the summer, but now I use store-bought. I cook the mixture on the stove until all is soft, then remove it from heat and run the sauce through a food mill to puree.

Next, I make meatballs from scratch, and brown them in a pan. Often times I’ll brown sausage and meatballs together. After they’re browned, I add them back to the gravy to cook for about 3 more hours. The sauce is finished with a dash of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, to taste.

For a real treat, I add braciola to the sauce -it is SO good.

*braciola is pig skin which is rolled up with parsley and garlic inside.

My gravy is similar to my mom’s recipe above, however, I don’t add any olive oil or garlic and I add one yellow bell pepper. I start by putting all the vegetables (carrot, celery, onion, and yellow pepper) into the pan with canned crushed tomatoes to cook for 1 hour or until soft. Then I remove the sauce from the pan and run it through a food mill for a smooth texture.

Then, I fry up homemade meatballs, and some sausage, and add them to the pureed sauce. I don’t drain the meat before adding it, as I like a little of the oil to add flavor to the sauce. After adding the meat, I’ll let it simmer on the stove for at least 5 hours. I finish the sauce with a little salt and pepper to taste before serving.

My marinara sauce is meatless, and is probably more closely related to an arrabbiata sauce. First, I saute some garlic and a tiny bit of minced onion in olive oil. Next I add crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and salt/pepper. I let this cook for at least 1 hour, then finish by adding a pat of butter.

For a Quick Gravy (somewhat like a Bolognese sauce), I take sausage out of its casing and brown it in the pan before adding the above ingredients for the marinara, then cook for just 1 hour.

basil added

Add a little fresh basil

First thing I do is brown some crumbled sweet Italian sausage, chopped onion, and garlic in olive oil. Then, I add a little bit of tomato paste and one tablespoon of sugar. You want to let the sugar caramelize, but make sure that you mix it well while cooking, or it will burn. After this I add pieces of bell pepper, finely chopped carrot, celery, and parsley, as well as canned tomato puree and a dash of salt and pepper.

I let this mixture cook on the stove while I make and fry my meatballs. When the meatballs are brown and ready, I add them to the sauce, as well as the leftover oil from frying them, to get the most flavor in my sauce. Lastly, I’ll finish off the sauce with some chopped fresh basil from my garden.


I start by sauteing diced onions in olive oil. I use tomatoes that my family cans ourselves each summer, and sometimes it is a thinner consistency. If that is the case, I will also saute a can of tomato paste with the diced onions and cook them down together before I add my canned tomatoes. One the side, I brown the meatballs and sausage and then add them to the pot and simmer everything for a few hours.

First I brown the meat, which varys for each batch dependent upon my mood. I remove the meat from the pan and set aside. I dispose of the cooking oil, but I leave all the browned flavorful “bits” at the bottom of the pan. I love the flavor it provides and I avoid the extra fat from the oil. I then cook everything else in that pan, and simmer away.

This is how my Israeli Aunt taught me to make red sauce. First, I cook up some onions and garlic in a pan with olive oil. I next add one can of tomato paste, and water it down til its a desired thickness. Lastly, I add herbs like oregano and basil to taste, and a little sugar to help with acidity.

My mom also taught me to eat pasta with ketchup and feta cheese.  It sounds crazy, but trust me, it’s really good.  She said they didn’t have tomato sauce when she was growing up in Israel, so they improvised!


Freshly chopped basil


Nina Rose
I always start by sauteing my mirepoix with a little garlic, and once softened, I use Gina’s tip for adding some tomato paste and sugar, and stirring until glossy (about a minute). This is really key. I’ve never been able to make my gravy with the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness until I tried this (thanks, Gina!) Next, I add crushed San Marzano canned tomatoes to fill the pot, or a mixture of fresh and canned. Sometimes I’ll add in a head of roasted garlic if I’m feeling fancy.


Simmer for hours, and strain through a food mill, or if I’m lazy I’ll just use my immersion blender, since I don’t mind seeds or chunks so much. Season at the very end with kosher salt, fresh basil and a good quality crushed red pepper (my local farmers market sells “Cucarachas,” little dried chilis crisped in extra virgin olive oil and finished with local garlic and Fleur de Sel). I like mine just a little sweet, while my boyfriend always adds a “healthy” sprinkle of extra sugar on top. To me, the most important thing is the quality of the ingredients, and you won’t have to add all sorts of things to try to doctor it.

First thing I do is make meatballs, and brown them in olive oil. I’ll remove them, then using the same pan I’ll add three cans of whole tomatoes (which I have already run through a food mill). Next I add chopped carrots, about three cloves of garlic. At this point, I’ll add the meatballs back into the pan, as well as two lbs of sausage-one pound of hot and one lb of sweet, and let the sausage cook in the simmering sauce. At the end, I’ll add a little bit of salt & pepper to taste, and fresh chopped basil.

This is important to remember: Make sure you add the salt at the end of the cooking process.  I learned my lesson the hard way once.  I added salt in the beginning when I added the tomatoes, and every time I tasted the sauce during the cooking process, it was too bland, so I added more salt.  When all was said and done and the sauce was finished, all the salt I had added could be tasted,  and the resulting sauce was garbage.

Add meatballs and simmer

While mostly out of convenience, I don’t usually make my own red sauce.  I pick-up natural/organic tomato sauce from the grocery store, and doctor it up with fresh vegetables and spices.

Last night, I sauteed slices of garlic, minced onion, and sliced baby bella mushrooms in olive oil. I added the cooked vegetables to the sauce with some meatballs as I heated it up on the stovetop.  I also like to add a bit of crushed red pepper to the sauce, as I like mine a bit on the spicy side. Lastly, I grate some parmesan, and chop some fresh basil and stir them into the sauce to finish.

Saute sliced garlic and minced onion in olive.

Saute sliced garlic and minced onion in olive.

My sauce starts with two heads of garlic, which I halve each clove instead of crushing them. I saute the halved cloves of garlic with chopped onion until brown and caramelized. At this point I’ll add whatever fresh herbs I have in my kitchen, usually oregano, basil, and sage- I love fresh sage.

Then, I add fresh crushed tomatoes and vegetable stock and cook for at least an hour, or until the sweetness from the tomatoes comes out, I don’t like it too acidic. If I want to thicken the sauce, I’ll usually add a slurry of cornstarch and water, but a tablespoon of tomato paste will work in a pinch, as well. To finish the sauce, I add just a smidgen of browned butter.

In a large sauce pan, I brown 80/20 ground beef, chopped onion and garlic. Then, I add a can of tomato puree, tomato paste, oregano, basil, and thyme. I let this simmer for a little while, then I finish the sauce by adding shaved parmesan and asiago cheese, and a pat of butter.

Mise en place

Mise en place

I like to make Lidia Bastianich’s Marinara Sauce Recipe.  But sometimes I’ll add chopped up raisins for the added sweetness.  It cuts down on the acid of the tomatoes.

As you can see, there are many many ways to make red sauce. Some people don’t have the time to make it from scratch and therefore will doctor up their favorite store brand of jarred sauce. The truth of the matter is, there is no wrong way to make or enjoy tomato sauce.  We’ll leave you with a tip from of the butchers across the street at Esposito’s. Try making your gravy with cotechino (pig skin) sausage.  It’s really delicious.  Serve it over fried polenta!




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